"This may be the most dangerous and irresponsible proposal we've ever seen from the Trump administration."
That's how one critic responded to a New York Times report on Wednesday evening that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering using taxpayer money to arm teachers, a supposed "safety" proposal that President Donald Trump repeatedly praised after 17 people were massacred at a Florida high school in February. The "unprecedented" plan was immediately decried as "absurd," "foolish," and "sickening."
Like most ideas from @BetsyDeVosED; the proposal to offer grants for arming teachers is foolish and dangerous.
— CSGV (@CSGV) August 23, 2018
Although $50 million in federal funding that Congress allocated to local schools in March cannot be used for the plan, the Times reports that the Education Department is "eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases."
Because of this omission, the Times adds, DeVos could "use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action."
The solution to school shootings isn’t putting loaded guns in the hands of teachers--it’s passing laws that will keep guns away from people who have dangerous histories. Congress must stop this dangerous proposal in the appropriations process. https://t.co/RjAP0RNu5O
— Everytown (@Everytown) August 23, 2018
The grants are part of a $1 billion student support program that, the Times explains, "is intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country's poorest schools and calls for school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning, and improving the use of technology for digital literacy."
The department's thinking, according to multiple unnamed sources, is that the gun purchases could fall under the goal of improving school conditions, but as the Times points out, using the funds to buy firearms "could undermine the grant program's adoption of 'drug and violence prevention,' which defines a safe school environment as free of weapons."
"Instead of after-school programs or counselors, programs that are critical for creating safe and welcoming schools and addressing the mental health needs of kids, DeVos wants to turn schools into armed fortresses and make kids and educators less safe," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools. That's insane."
"Many schools can barely afford nurses or counselors for students—and teachers dip into their own pockets for basic supplies," noted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), calling the proposal "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
Many schools can barely afford nurses or counselors for students – and teachers dip into their own pockets for basic supplies. Now @BetsyDeVosED wants to allow schools to use limited federal education $ to put guns – GUNS – in classrooms? That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard. https://t.co/b79CP4xZIe
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 23, 2018
Several other critics were also quick to note how often chronically underpaid educators spend their own money on supplies for their students. According to a department survey published earlier this year, this is common practice among as many as 94 percent of teachers nationwide.
Teachers, already not paid sufficiently, are spending their own money to buy kids supplies and books and DeVos is thinking about letting schools use federal funds to buy guns for teachers... https://t.co/763I8qCBn8
— Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly) August 23, 2018
America’s teachers are already forced to spend their own meager salaries on basic school supplies, but the Trump Administration would rather use taxpayer money to buy them guns. Congress must stop this dangerous proposal in the appropriations process. https://t.co/d3Q2eU3A3a
— Moms Demand Action (@MomsDemand) August 23, 2018
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Matt Deitsch graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida before the February shooting, but his brother survived the massacre, and they both have been involved with the youth-led gun control movement that has followed. Responding to the Times report in a series of tweets, the elder Deitsch declared, "The government currently cares more about selling guns than whether your kid survives their education."
Almost every teacher has to buy their own supplies.
Schools are heavily under funded and under resourced.
Arming teachers is NOT a solution, it’s a SALES PITCH.
The government does not care if your children are shot, they just want to sell more guns.https://t.co/yqHQJp9R3o
— Matt Deitsch (@MattxRed) August 23, 2018
Others, including Shannon Watts—who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after 20 children and six adults were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012—framed the plan as a ploy by the Trump administration to benefit gunmakers, noting that major American weapons manufacturers have seen their sales and share values decline since Trump was elected:
Why? Because gun manufacturers are in the hole at least $100 million since Trump’s election. The @NRA can’t scare Americans by saying the President is going to take away their guns, so they have to arm 3.6M teachers to put money back in their coffers. https://t.co/s5ldC4sJH9
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) August 23, 2018
"We knew Betsy DeVos would try to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, but to even consider diverting resources used to support poor kids to flood schools with more guns is beyond the recklessness we believed she was willing to pursue," added Weingarten. "Does Betsy DeVos want a kindergarten teacher interacting with her students with a holstered gun on her hip? She needs to stop acting as the lobbyist for the NRA and start acting in the interests of children, parents, and the educators she has a duty to serve and protect as education secretary."
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in 2011 and has become a vocal advocate for stricter gun control, said in a series of tweets that the plan to arm teachers "recklessly puts American children in even more danger," and called on American voters to elect members of Congress who will take action to strengthen gun laws:
Arming teachers is not a solution. It recklessly puts American children in even more danger. We can forge a better path. It’s time for Americans to find the courage to fight for our own safety.
— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) August 23, 2018
Congress refuses to act—so this year we'll elect leaders who will. This November, we all must vote. We're going to elect gun safety champions that understand the foolishness of a plan like this and will have the courage to pass stronger gun laws. https://t.co/cFyKkO5co4
— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) August 23, 2018
News of this controversial plan follows outrage over DeVos's suggestion at a Senate hearing in June that a student safety commission formed after the Parkland shooting would not examine the role of guns in school violence. Although a department spokesperson later claimed that gun violence would be one of more than two dozen topics the commission addresses, as Common Dreams reported, the secretary's exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) rapidly provoked alarm as videos from the hearing circulated online.
The post has been updated with comment from the American Federation of Teachers and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).